Author: Benjamin Read
Illustrator: Chris Wildgoose
First published by Improper Books in 2013
Review by Miriam Atkinson
What did I expect when I first read the title ‘Butterfly Gate’? For me butterflies are often synonymous with beauty and life. From the brief blurb I gathered that this would be a fantasy story but upon seeing the front cover – a brother and sister wearing clothes dripping with blood and the outline of a not quite human face hanging ominously in the sky – I knew this book was not going to be the innocent adventure I had imagined.
Author Benjamin Read, illustrator Chris Wildgoose and their team have created a stunning silent comic with Butterfly Gate. Silent comics are a departure from regular comics and graphic novels because they do not include any dialogue or sound effects – they are completely silent and rely entirely on the illustrations to tell the story. The book follows a brother and sister as they discover the Butterfly Gate, a doorway between two worlds. Once in the new world the siblings accidently find the dark past of war this land has kept hidden.
Having never encountered a silent comic before, I was uncertain if a story could be told solely in pictures. For the first half of the comic the combination of storytelling and illustrations work brilliantly together. Set in our world, the beautiful drawings and vibrant colours drew me into the story. I had no trouble understanding the narrative which I found highly enjoyable including the gruesome twist at the end. The illustrations also subtlety expressed the personalities of each sibling, with the cautious younger brother and the determined and desperate older sister.
However once the story entered the fantastical second half I found the silent comic began to have problems. I was able to follow the basics of the narrative but for me the fantasy elements were harder to grasp. In regular graphic novels the authors are able to include brief descriptions about the world they have created – and for me it was this lack of context where Butterfly Gate struggled.
If not for the blurb I would not necessarily have realised that the battle depicted was a revolution or that the mystical inhuman beings were gods. The illustrations cannot explain why the revolution happened or which side was in the right. To be fair this is just personal preference and I’m sure a lot of readers would have no problem following the story but I’m the sort of reader who craves those details.
Perhaps I am expecting too much from this silent narrative. Butterfly Gate certainly manages to tell a story and it allows the reader to use their imagination. A short and fast-paced comic – perhaps a little too fast-paced in places – filled with incredible illustrations; it has opened my eyes to a new form of storytelling. Ending with the ever ominous “to be continued”, even thought I was slightly confused in places I would still be interested to see what happens next.
*This review was originally published in the online magazine Cuckoo Review in September 2015*